Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Finished Cork Plate Debut

Well I finished that cork plate project. After writing a post about how hard it was to find real corks these days, even in Italy, the original gift-giver sent me another package from the states. This time it was full of corks her friend saved, including French and South American wines.

Although I cheated myself out of authentically showing only my own history of wine bottles that had passed through the house in my life with F, I do have a completed project in much less time.

It's definitely one big hot plate. For now, I have it hanging on the kitchen wall.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Italian Life in a Leg Cast

It's been 24 days since my operation. My stitches were taken out yesterday. The doctor says that everything is proceeding well. I still have two more weeks of life in a cast and another 25 days after that of life being every step=1 leg + 2 crutches. I'm at that horrible halfway point. I look back and say, "That was boring," or, "That was difficult." Now I have more of the same to look forward to.

I spent just under 3 weeks trapped in a house with a beautiful view. I spent the longest time ever of my personal history in the mountains with sunny weather, yet crippled. I watched the sun rise and set in a hot blue sky everyday except for two. Meanwhile I could only watch the good weather from the terrace. Sunbathing was the best I could do to enjoy the great weather. Now I have a tan only on my arms, chest and tummy: the classic sunning chair position.

This year's experience was especially ironic because I have been coming to this location in the Dolomites in August for a decade and this was the first year that it didn't rain for at least 60% of the vacation. Some years, the percentage hit 90%. Instead it was sunny EVERYDAY this time. It rained a couple of times, but it was either sunny before or after the storm.

Leaving that house proved extremely tricky and tiring because of the street outside. The house is located in the oldest part of town and has a narrow and steep walkway that is several yards up or down from the nearest parking area. It's part of the charm, but you always have to walk it. In snow. In ice. On crutches. Even as the mountain climber I have become in recent years, I was huffing and puffing after short distances of navigating the stone walkway carefully and very physically with crutches.

A view of the stone walkway accessing several houses in the Dolomite region

In total, after almost 3 weeks, I left the house 5 times.

Streets like this one are part of the marvel of Italy, but prove potentially hazardous when you are not physcially fit. It's why the bel paese is una sfida (a challenge) for anyone who is handicapped. I am lucky this condition is only temporary.

But do not dispair. If you do find that you have handicapped concerns while travelling in Italy, read this Slow Travel article for insight and useful links. As the author says, it's possible but you need patience and a good sense of humor. (I wish I had some of that right now.)

Currently I am back in Padua where the terrain is flat. My new challenge is accessing my condo which is a 2-floor walk-up.

Friday, August 26, 2011


I'm going to be extremely dangerous tomorrow.

I am going to be threat to the USA.

Am I a terrorist?

No, I am a hurricane.

But I am also Irene, your blogger, sweating through a Padua heatwave.

Over the past few days, as weather channels and services all across my home country announce the developments of a hurricane given my name, I have been steadily contacted by many friends and family. Some of them are facing what could be a disaster.

Here's a call in the hopes that "my" hurricane won't devastate another part of the country, USA, which is already suffering from severe draught and unprecedented Mississippi flooding this year. But looking at these forecasts, the outlook doesn't seem so nice.

Meanwhile in Padua, we have blazing sun that will continue through at least tomorrow. For our weather, click here.

Photo sources : Nasa and The Weather Channel

Monday, August 15, 2011

Have a Nice Vacation

And vacation it is!

Italy is officially on vacation. Today, Ferragosto, is the day when all Italians "should" be on vacation. And most of them are. Either at the beach (70%), in the mountains (15,7%) or in some foreign place, the USA being on their favorite destinations in recent years (10%). (The strong Euro against the dollar makes their US vacations cost-effective.) 33 million Italians are on vacation this summer, which is 55% of the population.

Some things have changed from last year. The average cost has come down Euro 100 to Euro 776, including room and board, transportation and entertainment. The average length of
the holiday has dwindled a day to 11 nights away from home. The time period to take vacation is also changing. June and September are becoming increasing popular with 4% increases for both, although August remains the favorite month with 52% choosing now as their time for the great escape.

On another front, Italians are increasingly borrowing money to go on vacation. Around 35K of them are borrowing anywhere from Euro 4500-7000 for this purpose. The average Italian asking for this kind of prestito is 40 years old and generally comes from the South, Sicily and Sardinia being at the top. However considering that it takes these borrowers 3 years to pay off the loan, it may not be a very wise choice over the long run.

Buone ferie!
Happy holidays!

Vacations statistics from here and here
Loan information source.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Is This Garden a True Improvement?

This historic, central and hidden corner of the city looks so lovely, doesn't it? Unfortunately it's fake.

Fake in that the grass is plastic while the flowers and bushes are real. Yet that one important element of grass being fake compromises the whole beauty of the arrangement.

This is a picture of the courtyard behind Palazzo di Ezzelino, which dates back to the 12th century and is located off Via Santa Lucia. The courtyard is nestled behind the old palazzo and between several up-scale shops.

When I first came to Padua and discovered this little haven, it had a couple of marble benches and a wall full of spray-painted missives dedicated to lovers and local graffiti artists. The teenage population used its secluded nature to romantically sit together, kiss and make out.

I remember one May day in 2008 when a local artist, Sonia Furiato, decided to dedicate an art installation to the unique space for a roving exhibition I was curating, Libri d'artista per il centro di Padova (Artists' Books around the Center of Padua) . She laid dozens of white origami birds around the courtyard and something magical happened that afternoon. Kids and shoppers were drawn to the space and her action within it. They stopped in their tracks. Their faces lit up. (Unfortunately the shopkeepers didn't understand what was happening and seemed upset at the performance, as they came out and scolded her.)

Libri d'artista per il centro di Padova
Libri d'artista per il centro di Padova

Then fairly recently I walked through the space again and found it cleaned up (from the spray paint), landscaped and fake. It doesn't invite anyone to stay in the space anymore. The benches are gone. The garden looks great but lacks heart. There isn't any meaning to any of this, especially if it doesn't even have real grass.

I'm sure the shopkeepers splurged on the landscaping but don't want the hassle of cutting grass. Plus, glass needs to be weeded and no one wants to do that either. Solution: spruce it up with flowers and plastic! Such a gorgeous way to kill the spirit of a place.

Where is a city allowed to not be pristine? Only in the outskirts and under overpasses? We as humans often have an underbelly of our public persona, which is not always perfect. I believe our cities should be allowed to have similar "alternative" spaces, especially if they bring meaning to those who live there. The former version of this courtyard respected that loved, hidden and cruder part of ourselves.

Where do the teenagers have to go now to catch that minute of privacy, I ask?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Wonders of Socialized Medicine

While some people are complaining back home in the US about the planned "Obamacare", I am relishing the benefits of European socialized medicine.

It turns out that my achilles tendon was completely ruptured from jumping to the beats of Cindy Lauper, as explained in my recent post. An ultrasound on Tuesday sealed my fate. I needed surgery and fast. Within 36 hours of seeing the ultrasound results, I was on a hospital bed undergoing surgery.

Yesterday I came home from the hospital after orthopedic surgery lasting 1.5 hrs and just over 24 hours in the hospital in post-op recovery. I now have 5 stitches behind my ankle, nylon thread and special mesh holding my tendon together and a cast up to my knee. I may not be happy about being immobile for the rest of the summer and into the fall, but the service has been great and free.

This is not my first bit of surgery. I have already had 2 major operations on my arm in the US. I know what surgery and recovery involves. I also know that as a US patient, not only do you have to deal with the physical ramifications of surgery but also financial woes. Even as an insured US citizen, you risk paying for surgery out-of-pocket. That's exactly what I had to do years ago when I reinjured my arm. The insurance company did not provide coverage on that area of my body because it had already sustained an injury. I was faced with a $16,000 hospital bill for something that was not unlike what I underwent in the last couple of days in Italy. Needless to say, when the bills started pouring in within a month of surgery, I got progressively more depressed. Here I was, trying to get my arm back to health, and I had to deal with how to foot that kind of bill, which felt enormous for a 26-year old woman who was out of work at the time. That financial legacy lingered on long after the wounds were healed.

Fast forward to now. I can concentrate on my leg without worrying so much about my bank account. This is a real relief.

When the Italian hospital staff was asking me about life as an American, they were implying that everything seems better across the ocean. But I pointed out that the very action of their care, which was free for me, is one of the great differences between there and here. Then they smiled. "E' vero" (That's true).

Monday, August 1, 2011

My 7 (Sette) Links

Currently, there is a ripple effect of the 7 Links washing over the expat blog world. Now I am participating. If you want to learn more, go here for the rules and an explanation.

As for my own blog's classification, this has been a great excuse to review my own work over the last couple of years, my evolution on the blogosphere. Here they go:

2. Post I am most proud of, for its heartfelt opinion: Far Far Away
3. Most surprise success: Promising Forever
4 Most controversial post: Amanda Knox Conviction
6. Didn't get the attention it deserved: WWI on the Lagazuoi
7. Most helpful weekly series of posts: Friday's False Friends (no specific link, but you can do a search an find all of them using the Google search bar in the right column of this website)

These are the bloggers I would like to nominate:
Living Venice a comprehensive guide to nearby Venice
Becoming Italian Word by Word an eloquent online encyclopedia of the meanings behind the words and culture of the Italian language
Zoomata very interesting tidbits about Italy, written by a journalist working in Milan
Eternallycool great news and imagery related to art, architecture and advertising with the bel paese, and often Rome, as the main protagonists
Venetian Cat in-depth posts about cultural events in Venice

Enjoy your exploration of my blog space and those of others I particularly enjoy.

Buona lettura!
Have a good read!